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Friday, April 12, 2024

Leanne Lawrence's compassion has been the driving force behind her work helping inmates at the Alachua County Jail earn their GED certificates since 2000.

This month, she published her first book, “Between Hell and Hope: Teaching Humanity in an Imperfect World,” which chronicles her students’ experiences.

“It started out writing the stories just to cleanse myself because sometimes you hear really awful stuff,” she said. “Some of it is really funny and wonderful. I just wrote them sort of to take a shower.”

Lawrence said the hardest story to write was about a 5-year-old boy whose father raped him every morning before school. She also shared a story about a dad who started his daughter on cocaine for her 15th birthday.

“These stories are awful and ugly, but I know for a fact that we are all one bad choice away from being right where these people are,” Lawrence said. “An extra glass of wine at dinner, an extra margarita with your chips and salsa before getting behind the wheel.”

Lawrence knows some readers could find some stories in her book offensive. However, she believes being politically correct and keeping silent on issues in society creates a bigger cultural divide.

“You can’t know a person until you walk a mile in their shoes,” she said. “You can’t possibly know what makes that person pick up the crack pipe for the first time or what makes a girl let men do horrible things to her.”

To maintain control over the content in the book, Lawrence founded a publication company, De Profundis Productions, in 2012.

“All she’s worried about is getting the book out there, circulating and spreading the book’s message,” said Suzanne Richardson, publicist for De Profundis Productions.

Lawrence has turned to Facebook and Twitter to market the book.

The response has been positive, Richardson said, adding that Lawrence already emptied her first round of inventory.

Lawrence said listening to people’s stories is one way to spread kindness. Her book gives her students a voice and helps them to be seen as human beings.

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“I don’t judge them, and I think they’re all beautiful and brilliant and capable until they prove me wrong,” she said. “I’ve walked in my own darkness. But I give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

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